Animal Assisted Therapy
Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained animals to enhance an individual’s physical, emotional and social well-being, thus improving self-esteem, reducing anxiety and facilitating healing. The use of AAT reportedly dates back to the 1940s, when an army corporal brought his Yorkshire Terrier to a hospital to cheer wounded soldiers. There was such a positive response that the dog continued to comfort others for 12 more years. A wealth of information on AAT comes from Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society), a research-based organization committed to promoting animal-based treatments around the country. They distinguish animal-assisted activities (such as provided by seeing-eye dogs to the visually impaired) from therapy, in which the emphasis is on psychological support and physical healing.
What health conditions can AAT help to treat?
Research has demonstrated that animals have a calming effect, reducing blood pressure and anxiety. They tend to make people less lonely and bring out positive social characteristics. Many hospitals and nursing homes use AAT programs to help reduce feelings of depression and isolation in their patients as well as stimulating mental activity through interaction with the animal. Because animals are non-judgmental, those with deformities or disfigurements may find it easier to socialize with them versus with other individuals. According to the Pet Partners, research in seniors has shown that those who own a dog have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those who don’t. Animals can also be a pleasant distraction for those experiencing uncomfortable medical procedures.
Animal assisted activities (AAA) provide interactions in a number of different environments for the purpose of improving motivation, assisting educational activities, or just having fun to enhance quality of life. These primarily involve casual visitations by the animal, and are distinguished from AAT programs that target particular individuals or medical conditions.
Those with severe mental health disorders should be closely monitored to ensure the safety of both animal and client.